My first impression of this group was that they played cooler, more upbeat versions of Dougie Maclean’s acoustic tracks. The sort of music that seems to resonate through the ages, incorporating a celtic past and present of the rugged beauty in the highlands (cliche).
My second impression was that, while they are all clearly excellent, experienced musicians, and have a natural stage presence, they aren’t the most wonderful of singers. I mean, Aaron Jones on bouzouki and guitar was quite good, but Jonny Hardie, co-founder of the band back in 1929 (or thereabouts), should maybe stick with the fiddle. His voice wasn’t that bad, more the type of thing you hear round a beach campfire in October.
There was also the sense that the gig was rather hurried: the piper, Ali Hutton, appeared to me like he was doing too much. Playing multiple instruments is impressive, and the different sounds definitely add to the feel for a lot of the music, but when the musician on stage is switching between instruments for every track, or even several times per track, it just looks hurried and unrelated. The three others on stage looked much more relaxed compared to Hutton rushing around, preparing his pipes and flutes. Their ‘between-song-banter’ also had an unpractised, awkward feel about it.
Donald Hay is the fourth and final member of the band, the percussionist. I found the drums a strange mix of interesting (in a positive way) and annoying (in a negative way), but I’m unsure if it wasn’t a fault with the sound system. I find that traditional Scots music has such a natural rhythm and beat to it that drums are often not needed, perhaps also because of the need to bang your feet on the ground and twirl around in a circle, and for Old Blind Dogs I felt this also rang true. The drums were too loud, too invasive with the other layers of sound. I can definitely see what all the other descriptions and reviews mean by ‘dynamic percussion’, and I can see where they were going with the almost modern beats, but for me it was too jarring and heavy, it wasn’t needed.
I do believe that there must have been a issue with the sound, however, as after the interval found the drums much softer and complimentary. My only complaints during the second half was Ali Hutton’s constant switching around on stage, and the use of a tambourine, which I can’t not associate with primary school sing-a-longs.
I’ve ended up writing a rather negative review, but I really did enjoy Old Blind Dogs. They were lively and talented, and had some deeply beautiful songs amongst the jiving foot-tapping ones. I definitely recommend them if you’re a fan of this type of music: they definitely give that something extra to the traditional, celtic, fiddle and pipe music. The only thing me and the other ushers were questioning, was why are they called Old Blind Dogs?